High-Tech Infotainment Systems Increase Driver Distraction, Study Finds | Edmunds

High-Tech Infotainment Systems Increase Driver Distraction, Study Finds

Some of the latest in-vehicle technology, including complex infotainment systems, is leading to increased driver distraction on the road, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The traffic-safety research organization studied a total of 120 drivers, ages 21-36, in 30 2017 model-year vehicles. Participants were required to use voice commands, touchscreens and other interactive technologies to make a phone call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation, all while driving.

The study found that drivers using these in-vehicle technologies could be visually and mentally distracted for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks such as programming navigation or sending a text message. According to the foundation, previous research demonstrated that removing eyes from the road for just 2 seconds doubles the risk for a crash.

"Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road by increasing the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel," David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. "When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete."

The study's researchers examined the visual (eyes off the road) and cognitive (mental) demand as well as the time it took drivers to complete a task using the vehicle's infotainment system. Demand was then categorized as low, moderate, high or very high. None of the 30 vehicles in the study had infotainment systems that resulted in low demand. Seven generated moderate demand, 11 high demand and 12 very high demand.

Research showed that programming navigation systems was the task that resulted in the most distraction among drivers in the study, taking an average of 40 seconds. In that time, AAA says, a car going just 25 mph could travel the length of four football fields while the driver is entering a destination into the system.

Not surprisingly, though, car shoppers are placing an increasing value on in-vehicle tech. AAA notes that, according to its latest public opinion survey, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say that they want these new technologies in their vehicles. On the other hand, only 24 percent think that the technology, as designed, works perfectly.

"Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the core task of driving, like sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web — tasks we have no business doing behind the wheel," said Marshall Doney, AAA president and CEO. "Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook. And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks."

The study's researchers found that most of the infotainment systems tested could be made safer if voluntary guidelines released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2012 were followed. These include such recommendations as locking out text messaging, social media and programming navigation while the car is in motion. These and certain other tasks, NHTSA said, should only be able to be accomplished when a vehicle is parked.

AAA says it has met with a number of auto manufacturers and suppliers to discuss the study's findings. And it plans to continue the dialogue with these and other interested parties to review recommendations and help investigate ways to mitigate driver distraction.

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